During the early to late fifties, two
friends, both studying Engineering courses at Stellenbosch
University had a dream or an ambition. This vision would affect the
lives of countless people, mainly motoring enthusiasts during the
five decades that followed.
Bob van Niekerk and the late Willie Meissner had visions of not only building but also producing a sports car. Eventually, surprisingly soon, this car became a reality!
By 1st January 1958 the GSM Dart, appeared on the starting line of the Cape's premier race meeting at Gunners Circle A scant four years later a more sophisticated GT version, the GSM Flamingo saw the light.
These two motor cars, then proceeded to make a name for themselves not only in South Africa but all over the world. In England the Dart was produced as the Delta.
Many stories and theories of where and who designed these little "Giant Killers" abound, but here in Bob van Niekerks own words and handwriting, is the ACTUAL story of the beautiful GSM (Glass Sport Motors) cars than vanquished Porsches, Healeys and the rest:
My Classic and I
By Bob van Niekerk
My interest in cars
started at a tender age when my father had a 6 cylinder Humber and a
1927 Amilcar Grand Sport – the one with the Eldridge cowl, an 1100
cc sidevalve engine and a boat rear. By the time that I was finally
allowed to get a driving licence, I knew that Amilcar back to front
and was allowed to use it to Stellenbosch university where I was
studying toward a degree in mechanical engineering.
Later I rebuilt a 1933 Austin 7 into a single seater for local races and hill climbs using bolts, buts and panels from an old Avro Anson aircraft. However, my friend Willie Meissner and I had long dreamt of building a proper sports car – one that looked good, went fast and was safe as well as affordable.
The main problem was the complete absence of craftsmen in Cape Town who could build bodies for cars, and this unfortunately forced us to shelve our ideal for a number of years.
Until one day in 1956, Willie wrote to me from England, saying he had found the perfect body building material – fiberglass. I dropped everything and left for England aboard the Union Castle mail ship to find out more about this “wonder material” with help from Mitchell and Smith.
Then we tackled problem number two, getting a good-looking design. We had full confidence in our ability to produce the mechanicals and a good chassis, but needed someone to put a “face” on it. As luck would have it, Willie knew a Joan (nee) Peters who was married to a stylist working at Bootes who would hopefully stop us from producing a mediocre, unattractive body.
His name was Verster de Wit and he very soon had us (Willie and myself) building quarter-scale models with plasticene during the week while he was off working in Coventry. Fridays, Verster would come down to London to inspect the work we had done, in the one-roomed flat in Earls Court.
When we got to model number 13, it suddenly all came together, and a unanimous decision was made to progress to full-scale.
We rented a garage in Gleneldin Mews in Streatham and built the mock up using wooden formers and plaster of paris. The first body came out of the mould in April 1957 and was sold for 75 pounds, which helped to pay for my, and moulds, trip back to Cape Town where Willie had started the Glassport Motor Company (GSM).
On New Years day 1958, Willie and I raced our prototype GSM Darts at Gunners Circle with the Willment OHC conversion on the 1172cc 100E Ford engines. This spurred us on to open a small factory that had produced 41 racecars by the end of 1959, most of which were sold to enthusiasts.
This was the time that Willie again visited the UK briefly and insisted that he had found somebody keen to produce our Darts there. I straightaway made another lot of moulds and jigs for the chassis etc. and packed it all to accompany me on the ever-faithful Union Castle. Leaving it warehoused in Southampton, I went to London to meet this new manufacturer. Disaster struck when I found he was in jail for all kind of misdemeanor.
I had to start from scratch to look for someone who could build our car.
Eventually, a good Samaritan introduced me to mr. John P. Scott of West Malling who was interested but not quite sure that he could believe this “Boer” from the colonies. He consulted his partners, Messrs. M.W. Wilson and J.O. Attle of Sevenoaks and came up with a real cracker of a challenge: They would put up the money for the parts required, such as the engine, box, axles, tyres etc. to allow me to complete a prototype car and the chassis and body I had brought with me. I had to do all the work myself, and then race it in the 1000cc G.T. class at Brands Hatch and win!
The problem was that this decision was only made 10 days before that fateful race on April 18th 1960. With a good amount of midnight oil and lots of help from John Passini, we achieved the impossible including the win.
I stayed on at West Malling and laid out a production line in a new factory which was to be built behind the old Windsor Garage, whilst producing another Delta for racing – this time with plenty of help from the garage’s mechanics and their foreman.
The racing successes at Goodwood, Silverstone, Aintree, Claremont, Ferrand etc. followed to the astonishment of many, including Colin Chapman whom I overheard saying to a friend that in the pits at Brands, that he could just not understand how such a simple design could beat his Lotus Sevens.
Enclosed is a copy of a leaflet, printed in 1960, giving details of our cars and stressing the safety aspect which I always consider to be very, very important. To my knowledge, this was one of the first cars ever to be built with crumple zones both fore and aft that ensured those vital split seconds for reduced acceleration in an accident.
Towards the end of 1960, I returned to S.A. to prototype a proper GT version for the new V6 engine Dagenham had told us about in absolute secrecy. We were too quick for Ford however, and had to fit Taunus 17M T.S. engines in the first series of GSM Flamingos. Some 116 GSM Darts were built in S.A. and I have been told over 60 GSM Deltas in the U.K, some of which have surfaced lately in Canada. We built approximately 128 GSM Flamingos in Cape Town. Later models were fitted with Cortina 1500cc GT engines when the promised V6 still failed to appear.
My personal car shown in the photograph is a 1500cc Dart fitted with a mild cam and Webers to give pleasant road performance, and the prototype Flamingo V8 with a Ford 260 Cubic inch engine and overdrive gearbox which was built in 1964 before production stopped.
Today, there is a thriving GSM car club which will be only too glad to hear from GSM owners anywhere in the world.
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